We’ve all been in the search to help us achieve perfect skin. But is it just a dream, or can it really be achieved? It looks like having light shined on your face may be the most important part of your skin routine.
Red light’s anti-inflammatory and collagen-building effects on the skin have been documented for years, showing its healing abilities. However, light therapy is branching out, including other light spectrums such as green, blue, purple, and amber, for different healing abilities.
Ellen Marmur, a New York dermatologist, said, It has just enough variety that people stay excited to use it.” While many at-home devices are small and require multiple treatments to cover the entire face, masks help solve this issue.
“It makes people feel good, like they’re taking care of themselves,” Dr. Marmur said. “You can treat your skin while doing other things, so it’s easier to form the habit of doing it every day.”
So How Does LED Work?
LED therapy, known as photobiomodulation, can alter biological matter using varying wavelengths of light.
Jared Jagdeo, associate professor of dermatology and director of the Center for Phototherapy, SUNY Downstate Health Science University, studies LED therapy. “You can alter the skin through photo-damaging with lasers, or photobiomodulation, which is a much more gentle way of changing the way the skin functions,” he said.
When asked why red light works particularly well with skin, he said, “There’s a specific receptor in the mitochondria of the skin cells that red light specifically acts upon. And that’s why red light is an ideal wavelength for changing the way the skin functions.”
Red light can pass through the skin, deeply entering tissue and stimulating the cell’s mitochondria, which results in anti-inflammation and the skin’s rejuvenation. Collagen is also produced in the dermis, smoothing out wrinkles and plumping the skin.
While blue light doesn’t penetrate deeply into the skin, it kills acne-causing bacteria on the skin’s surface. Green light, on the other hand, focuses on melanocytes, reducing excess melanin production.
Is All of This Light Ok for my Eyes?
Eye safety is a valid concern, particularly because earlier this year Neutrogena recalled its LED mask over fears that it could cause eye injuries.
Brain S. Biesman, assistant clinical professor of ophthalmology, dermatology, and ENT at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, states that most red light therapy devices aren’t powerful enough to cause eye damage. “Just normal blinking and eye movements should be sufficient to protect the eyes,” he said. “But never stare at a bright light source.”
“As far as the F.D.A. is concerned, if I use CO2 laser resurfacing, it better work because of the amount of risk involved,” said Suzanne Kilmer, a clinical professor of dermatology at the UC Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento and director of the Laser and Skin Surgery Medical Group.
“Compare that to a home device,” Dr. Kilmer said. “If it doesn’t kill you, blind you or make things much worse, it’s probably going to get approved. So it’s actually more incumbent upon the people selling home devices to show efficacy. You have to trust the people who are selling them.”
“LED is real, but it’s probably not optimized yet,” Dr. Kilmer said.
With light therapy, various factors help determine the amount of light your skin needs: the light’s strength, the distance from the skin, the length of time the device is used on the skin, and the natural color of your skin.
“Some of these lights on the market are very weak, and they may not have enough energy output to actually have a biological effect,” Dr. Jagdeo said. “Imagine a glow stick. It produces a color. But you could shine it on your face all day, and it’s not going to change the way your skin works.”
Moreover, the medical community hasn’t determined the standardized dose for treating skin conditions such as hyperpigmentation and acne at home. Dr. Marmur chose her MMSphere dosing on Blu-U, an in-office blue light typically used as an alternative therapy for precancerous lesions.
“Consistent Sphere treatment for seven weeks will equal the energy given in the office with the Blu-U,” she said.
Another device, the Dr. Dennis Gross DRx SpectraLite FaceWare Pro, $435, releases red and blue light in a mask format, with each session lasting only three minutes. The mask’s LEDs are in contact with the skin, which may be a more effective treatment.
Dr. Jagdeo said, “This is a tremendously undertapped area in medicine. But LED light therapy is going to revolutionize the way home medical treatment is delivered for skin care over the next 10 to 15 years.”
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